Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

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A Saturday Morning "Procrastination Time" Review: The Reliquary Ring

Cherith Baldry's The Reliquary Ring lies somewhere on the borders between fantasy and science fiction. It's a place where alternate history and steampunk science meet magic and mystery, all framed by the lagoon that surrounds the City.

In an alternate Venice human fertility is declining. Artificial people, genics, are purchased from the Empire to the north to serve the city's people. Ungodly, unsouled (or so the Church teaches), genics are an underclass - tolerated for the work they do, hated for their unhuman nature. Some are built for a purpose, like Hyacinth the singer, while others are trying to find out just why they are here. As the city's elected Duke begins to die, the city's Byzantine politics are complicated by the arrival of the dark Count Dracone. He wants to rule, and will stop at nothing - blackmail, murder, trafficing in forbidden technologies. The meek Loredan finds himself opposing Dracone, for love of his city and the love of his genic servant. It's a conflict that will see darkness fall over the city, and the existing order toppled.

The Reliquary Ring is a story of searches, all wrapped in the quest for the titualar ring. Containing a hair of the Christos himself, this is an artifact that can offer its owner great power. Power is why Count Dracone wants the ring: the power to control the city, the power to twist human and genic alike to his dark desires. Loredan doesn't want power, he wants to find peace, love and friendship. Thrust into a position he didn't ask for, he has to become his city's saviour. It's a task that will change everything he knows and loves. But Loredan has one thing that will help him overcome the threat of Dracone: friends. Not just his peers, but at levels in the city - from the genic ghettos to the power brokers who are struggling to find a new leader.

There are echoes in Baldry's writings of other works. Like Cordwainer Smith's underpeople, Baldry's genics are in search of freedom and equality - but not just of power, also of faith and acceptance. There are deep questions underlying The Reliquary Ring: in a world where humanity's spiritual nature is defined by its relationship with a creator, what happens when humanity itself becomes a creator of intelligent beings? What is the relationship between the created and its creator?

Baldry attempts to answer these questions through the lives of her four main genic characters, each showing a different aspect of the question: Serafina in search of meaning in her life, Gabriel in his love for his master and his joy in his creation of art, Hyacinth in his desire for song, and Alessandro in his simple quest for equality. As we follow them through the story we see them finding their own answers - for there is no one answer to the great questions, only the answer that is right for each individual.

Like our Venice, a city floating at the edges of the sea, tied to its many moods, the city of The Reliquary Ring has its own relationship with the sea. Each of the main characters has their own relationship with the sea, and these relationships will affect more than just their own stories.

The Reliquary Ring is a powerful and beautiful story, that captures the spirit of Venice - and in doing so, attempts to ask (and perhaps, answer) some of the deep questions of love, freedom and acceptance.

Highly recommended.
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